By Bolanle Bolawole
When I wrote “Soname: Politics loss, the Church’s gain”, it was to celebrate a friend and “egbon”, Akinola Olumakinde Soname, on his investiture as the Lay President of the Methodist Church Diocese of Remo, Ogun State but little did I know that the write-up would catch the attention of “powerful” Methodist establishment people and generate an interest that would compel me to do more on the Methodist church. The story on Soname was well received as it went viral; and I received a call to do more, especially on the Methodist church in Remo in particular. The name of Rev. William Frederick Mellor was on the lips of everyone for his contributions to Methodism in Remo.
In his book “Methodism in Remoland (1892 – 2008)”, Olusegun Ayodele named Thomas Birch Freeman as the founder of the Methodist Church in Nigeria while Mellor, FRGS, MBE, was described as “the longest expatriate serving Minister in Remoland”. For this, he bagged the chieftaincy title of “The Asiwaju Muleoruwa of Remoland”. Also listed in the said book as “Founder of Methodism in Remoland” was Prince Panthagoras Ademuyiwa Haastrup, who reportedly came to Sagamu in 1892, before him had been other missionaries who recorded no success in their missionary endeavours.
According to Ayodele, the first missionaries to come to Remoland were white Germans – Rev. C. A. Gollmer and G. F. Gerst who were Anglican missionaries from Abeokuta. They came in 1852 and settled in Ofen town, from where they visited other Remo towns to preach the gospel. Between 1852 and 1854, they laboured among the people but were unable to firmly establish a missionary station.
Ayodele said Sagamu itself came into being in 1865 and the first missionary to visit the place was the Rev. James Johnson of the Church Missionary Society (Anglican missionary), an Ijebu man, who visited Sagamu on episcopal mission in 1878 and later again in 1888 and 1890. While Rev. Johnson undertook his first visit from his Abeokuta base, by 1890 when he visited for the third time, he came from the Breadfruit Anglican Church, Lagos. Like the German missionaries, the Rev. Johnson also failed to build a missionary station in any of the Remo towns visited by him.
In 1892, Prince Panthagoras Ademuyiwa Haastrup, a touted relation of the then Akarigbo, Oba A. K. Oyebajo, came to Remo to prevail on the Akarigbo and his people not to get involved in an “impending war which the Lagos Crown Government, the Awujale, and the Ijebu people wanted to engage in” but also took the opportunity to preach the gospel. Haastrup was a member of the Methodist Church, Ereko, Lagos; he was a Church leader and Lay preacher of the Weslayan Methodist Mission. Encouraged by a few converts he gained, Haastrup also added formal education into his missionary work. He founded a church and a school in May 1892.
According to Ayodele, the Agbowa Methodist Church was the first that was founded by Haastrup in May 1892 but from 1893 with the arrival of Rev. Henry James Ellis and his missionary team, other churches began to be planted in other Remo towns, such as the Iperu Methodist Church on April 8, 1893. Ayodele singled out an evangelist, William Arthur Thompson, born in Sierra Leone and a member of the music band during his time in the Army, for being instrumental to the founding of nine of the eleven early churches in Remoland. Thompson’s bravery and musical dexterity stood him head and shoulders above others but despite his outstanding contributions, he fell out with the Methodist Church in 1917 and joined the African Bethel Church.
Enter Mellor! According to Wikipedia, “William Frederick Mellor was an English missionary who spent considerable time of his missionary endeavour in Ijebu-Remo. He embraced some of the culture of Remo and ended up being conferred a chieftaincy title by the Akarigbo. Upon his retirement, he left Nigeria in 1957 but returned in 1966 to work with Tai Solarin at Mayflower School, Ikenne.
Mellor was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, a city heavily influenced by the pottery industry; he came from a generation of potters. Mellor’s father died when he was a child and at the age of 14, he embraced his family’s career path to earn some income and support the family.
He attended Cauldon School and on Sundays attended the St Jude’s Anglican Church; an encounter with a local Methodist preacher who was a bench mate at work, however, prodded him to join the Wesleyan Church. He gradually became involved in the activities of the church, becoming a Sunday school teacher and lay preacher. While preparing to be a priest, Mellor began to develop little interest in various Methodist meetings and decided on life as a missionary, originally having in mind working in India.
Mellor wanted to study medicine and theology. Between June and July, 1914, he started college education but his education was interrupted by the First World War. Mellor continued ministerial education for a year before enlisting in the Royal Navy. He joined Devonport Depot and initially was posted on HMS Eclipse but when a search was done for recruits with medical degrees or who had past shown interest in medicine, his name caught the attention of the navy and he was posted to the navy hospital in Gibraltar.
Towards the latter part of the war, he toured Freetown and Lagos with HMS Africa protecting convoys of cargo ships. It was at one of the stops at Freetown where he decided on missionary service to West Africa instead of India. In 1919, Mellor was demobilized and he was able to return to studies, completing his education in 1921 with a degree in theology.
In 1921, Mellor sailed for Lagos to start a career as a Methodist missionary. Prior to his start, pioneer Wesleyan missionaries had earlier arrived in Ijebu in 1893, shortly after the Ijebu Expedition resulted in British occupation of Ijebu Ode and ended the kingdom’s blockade of trade going to the coast. Shortly thereafter, Olumuyiwa Haastrup who was an adviser to the Akarigbo, wrote to the Wesleyan Church in London for a proposed mission house while, at the meantime, a Catechist could be provided, all expenses paid. In 1893, the Wesleyan Church sent a priest, H.J. Ellis and three un-ordained missionaries to Remo. The three missionaries built a mission house at Iperu from where they moved to other towns.
When Mellor arrived in Nigeria, he spent some weeks with Wesleyan priests who were already living in the country. In March 1922, he was posted to Sagamu to replace the outgoing priest as superintendent of Ijebu division. Sagamu was founded to replicate the structure of Abeokuta, a town consisting of villages and lineages converged together for defence purposes. In Ijebu and Ijebu-Remo, the Methodist Church was already established in the district with about 22 mission stations, close to 2,000 converts and 12 chapels.
Mellor’s efforts consolidated the presence of the Church and increased participation of community members in Church activities. He developed cordial relationships with the local residents and was sometimes called upon to mediate conflicts between the residents and their Obas or British colonists. To seek new converts, the Methodists employed monthly open air church services as part of their evangelical mission and garnered more converts within the community. At the Ijebu-Remo mission, he was assisted by a group of women, including Mrs. Kuti, Janet Adegunle and Julie Sokoya with the proselytizing of the mission.
Mellors missionary activities within Remo also had its challenges, the church grew in Ijebu-Ode with the effort of J.A. Adegboyega and Pa Oworu and in Sagamu, Oba Adedoyin was a regular Sunday service attendee and the Oluwole family helped establish the church in Sagamu. But many of these elites who helped develop the mission were polygamists who had great influence behind the scene but were ineligible for official leadership positions or full membership. The official position was for the men to reduce their surplus wives in order to attain full position with the church. Mellor opposed this position.
Mellor’s success was visible in education; he started classes for catechists and another for new converts as preparation for induction to the Methodist Church. His job as superintendent also involved managing the church’s primary schools within the circuit. There was a lack of secondary education facilities in the area for boys and girls, only one secondary school in the region, Ijebu Ode Grammar School, then headed by Rev. Ransome Kuti , and girl’s education was not fully supported with a proportion of one girl to eight boys.
Mellor developed craft training sessions for women. He also encouraged girls’ education and cooperated with the local Anglican mission and Muslim community to establish Remo Secondary School, the first co-education secondary school in the country, and Girls Secondary School, Shagamu. The girls’ secondary school developed a training class for teachers so as to increase the number of female teachers in the district.
Mellor’s interest in education led to his appointment as the representative of the Methodist order on the Regional board of education where he was able to influence acceptance of co-education within the region. He also introduced the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade movement to Ijebu and Remo and was an influential leader who contributed to sustain the Boys’ Brigade during the colonial period.
Mellor also cultivated friendship with Akarigbo William Adedoyin and used this relationship as well as his citizenship with the colonists to help actualise Adedoyin’s desire for an independent Remo division. In 1950, he was posted to Badagry and in 1957, he retired from missionary work.
While working in Remo, Mellor met a young Tai Solarin who was looking for someone to recommend him for service with the Royal Air Force. Both individuals later developed a relationship and when Mellor came to represent the Methodist mission in Nigeria during its independence in 1960, Solarin asked him to come back to Ikenne and be a part of his new school. In 1966, Mellor finally returned to Remo and acted as an adviser to Solarin and managed the school’s husbandry. At the school, he was popularly referred to as “Baba”. Mellor influenced Solarin, an atheist, to allow the creation of a chapel on school grounds”.
Little wonder, then, that, till date, the image of Mellor looms large over Methodism in Remoland and his memory, venerated. When I visited Sagamu to speak with the Diocesan Bishop of Remo Diocese, Rev. Jacob Moyinoluwalogo Ibikunle to throw further light on the matter, the packs of bottled water produced by the diocese and presented to me bear the name “Mellor”. Amiable Rev. Ibikunle also presented me with a study bible and the book “Methodism in Remoland”.
The first Methodist church in Remoland founded in May 1892 also now goes by the name Rev. Mellor Methodist Cathedral, Agbowa Makun, Sagamu. While sweet is the memory of the just, as the scripture says, this is not to trivialise the sacrifice of other contributors, death and living, past and present. Building enduring legacies, like the Methodist have done in Remoland, is usually a joint effort and not a one-man show.
By Bolanle Bolawole
[email protected] 0705 263 1058
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